By Ekta R. Garg
June 3, 2015
Rated: Borrow it
Given the recent trail derailment in Southern Pennsylvania as well as other train calamities, author Andrew Rosenheim’s personal account of living through a rail accident offers readers a firsthand opportunity to understand just how this awful situation looks and feels. His memoir, The Secrets of Carriage H, may stutter at times; given the gravity of its subject, however, the stops and starts work in favor of the short book.
On October 5, 1999, two commuter trains collided during rush hour just outside of London. Andrew Rosenheim sat in the front car chatting with a friend at the time of the crash; they both survived, despite their location in the train. Rosenheim begins his book just before the time of the crash and walks readers step by step—literally—through the immediate aftermath of the accident.
He talks frankly, often bluntly, about how he felt, what he did, and what he wished he had done. Some of his revelations may not surprise readers as Rosenheim himself points out:
“The conventional view of a major accident like the crash is that it forces a reconsideration of the involved person’s life, that it makes you suddenly, perhaps portentously, view time as precious, see opportunities as strictly not to be wasted, and adopt carpe diem with gusto. The disappointing thing, in terms of predictability at least, is that this clichéd view is entirely correct.”
What surprises Rosenheim throughout the entire experience of the crash and his recovery, however, is the depth of the aftermath. The physical consequences come in the form of recovering from terrible burns on his skin. The emotional consequences lead him down the road of guilt about other passengers, including his friend and fellow passenger in Carriage H, with worse injuries. The psychological consequences include an increase of his fear of heights, almost to an irrational level. Rosenheim shares it all, and then some: his doubts, his fears, the advice he received and later ignored, the interactions he had with other crash survivors.
Some of the narrative meanders just a little bit, as if Rosenheim is recalling everything for the first time. Readers might take this as an intentional design of the story, to emphasize how Rosenheim experienced it. The narrative works better in some places than others, but in the end the book accomplishes its goal. It finishes on a tentative note, but no one reading The Secrets of Carriage H can doubt that this event acts as a new touchstone in Rosenheim’s life.
I would recommend readers Borrow The Secrets of Carriage H.